New Gaylord Sales Head Sees Cos. Move to 'Strategy Mode'

After about nine years working on the property level for Gaylord Entertainment Co., Kemp Gallineau on Jan. 1 began his new role as Gaylord's senior vice president and chief sales officer, leading the national sales office as well as sales teams at each property.

Gallineau most recently served as general manager of Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fla. He also has held leadership roles at Gaylord Opryland and Gaylord National near Washington, D.C., and positions with the Walt Disney World Swan and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

He spoke this month with MeetingNews associate editor Michael B. Baker about his new role and his outlook for 2010.

MeetingNews: What expectations do you have for 2010?

Kemp Gallineau: 2010 we're looking to be like 2009.What will be different: 2009 was a reactive state for most people. When you look back at the first, second and third quarters, we didn't know what the economy was going to do. With 2010, you're prepared. As companies, you've regrouped yourself. Our customers have right-sized, we've right-sized and we've refocused.

MN: Will overall bookings and booking windows rise again?

Gallineau: You'll see some of that. Associations, as we know, have the longest lead time on the booking window. In 2009, a lot of companies were in survival mode, whether they were public or private. In 2010, a lot of companies will be in strategy mode: 'We survived 2009, so where are we taking our company? How can we grow the value of our company?' That creates people getting together. Whether it's training, networking or strategizing, I think we'll see more of that. The short-term booking window for a lot of it is going to stay. If you go back to 2001 and 9/11 or back to the S&L crisis, no matter what the economy comes back to, it changes the way we do business. Companies have found efficiencies they're not going to let go of. You used to send five people to a meeting, but I don't know that companies will go back to that when they've found ways to make the decisions with one or two. But they're still going to meet.

MN: What are meeting planners focusing on in negotiations?

Gallineau: We've seen a lot more people ask around attrition and cancellation clauses and food and beverage minimums, those things that add risk to them long-term because of the unpredictability of the economy and potentially their own business. You still see people asking for more flexibility on those things. It doesn't mean they're not going to spend. You have to ask more questions than in the past so you know who's signing on the dotted line.

MN: Will remote conferencing technology affect demand?

Gallineau: People are using the technology to be better prepared, to share ideas before you get to the meeting so the value of the meeting is much stronger. The networking, from an attendee's perspective, is the number-one reason you go to meetings. People are still going to want to network and share best practices, especially coming out of a down economy. Everyone wants to hear the story of how they survived differently or got a little more upswing or sold their product differently. There's still a lot of that momentum there as we go into 2010.

MN: What does your prior experience bring to the new role?

Gallineau: Before this, I was the senior vice president and general manager of the Gaylord Palms, which arguably, along with Vegas, is one of the destinations that through the last months have been stretched the hardest, not only from a competitive nature but from the supply and demand model. I was in that position for four years with a huge focus on customers and providing flawless service. One thing I bring to the role is the balance of operational knowledge that it takes to provide products customers are willing to buy and the psychology behind the sell.

MN: What are your goals in your new executive position?

Gallineau: Our focus is to stay in alignment with our customers, providing those exceptional experiences, continuing to partner with them in a way that's meaningful instead of just allowing meetings to be a commodity buy. We are assets, but we're really geared to make great experiences, and if we lose the thought of being a partner with a customer or an advocate of what they're tying to achieve, then we have no chance to make a recovery, whether the economy does or not.

MN: Are any new properties in the works?

Gallineau: No. All our projects that we announced in past years are on hold, like we announced in the beginning of 2009.

MN: Which properties will have the strongest performance?

Gallineau: Our newest gem, the Gaylord National, still has a lot of upside. It's in a great market for the government business, Washington, D.C., and it's the home of associations, which are a very stable part of our industry. Texas continues to be the leader in a lot of what we do from a short-term booking perspective. Within the brand overall, when you look at what the economy has done, each hotel has found a way to customize their delivery to the planner's meetings. You're going to see that continue to be in the forefront of what Gaylord does. We will not sacrifice the culture of our company for our stars.

Originally published Jan. 25, 2010